We’re planning to start a regular revolving list of recommended products at AnandTech—sort of like a mini buyer’s guide focused on a single product or component. Anand has asked me to kick things off with a look at the notebook market. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I could find anything I was really comfortable recommending, considering Haswell is right around the corner and Richland APUs have been announced by AMD and should start showing up in laptops in the next month or two. But then I took a look around and found that there are some decent laptops that appear to be on clearance, making way for the next round of new products.

With that in mind, I tried to find what I felt was the most compelling offering right now, and somewhat surprisingly I ended up with an Ultrabook. To be clear, Ultrabooks and ultraportables aren’t the be-all, end-all of laptops; they’re great for portability and performance for general use applications is usually adequate, but they’re generally not gaming powerhouses and even battery life often gets compromised in pursuit of a small size. I’ll have some other recommendations for laptops over the coming weeks, but for now I’m specifically looking at the ultrathin class of offerings. The key things I like to see in an Ultrabook are pure solid state storage, a good LCD, and the lower the price the better; that brings me to VIZIO.

Last month, Vivek posted his thoughts on the VIZIO CT15 “Thin+Light” laptop. Note that the Windows 8 variants updated the touchpad and that they’re better than the original release, but they’re still not perfect. However, a good price can go a long ways towards making a product acceptable, and right now the CT14 with 128GB SSD is available for $680 at Amazon.com. (Note that this is basically a discontinued product, and even VIZIO has a list price of $599 on their store—except they’re sold out. [Update: Now back in stock at $849]) Not only does that make this one of the least expensive Intel-based ultraportable around right now, but for the price you still get a 128GB SSD, Core i5-3317U processor, and best yet: a 1600x900 high quality IPS display.

Does that make this the best current ultraportable? For the money, I would say yes, though I don’t know how long supplies will last. There are other issues that need to be mentioned as well: the keyboard still flexes a fair amount when you type (and lacks backlighting), the RAM can’t be upgraded, opening the lid can be a bit more difficult that I’d like, and battery life is merely so-so. However, when you look at competing offerings you often end up with other compromises (poor quality LCDs being a major one), and most of those cost more than the CT14 and come with a hard drive and caching SSD.

Bottom line: if you have to buy a laptop today and you want an Ultrabook or ultraportable, unless you’re willing to pay substantially more money (like $1100+), this is the one I’d recommend. Otherwise, wait and see what Haswell and Richland bring to the table in terms of Ultrabook/ultraportable options; they’ll likely cost more than the VIZIO’s sub-$700 price, but they’re likely to make up for that with higher performance, improved battery life, and better build quality. VIZIO will likewise be offering touchscreen updates of the CT14 and CT15 with the new CPUs/APUs and they also fix the keyboard complaints; we just need to see where they’re priced when they launch. Interestingly, I believe VIZIO is forgoing the Ultrabook aspect on the refresh, as they're switching to standard voltage CPUs. [Update: VIZIO just posted the updated specs and MSRPs for the touchscreen models. Hopefully street pricing is quite a bit lower.]

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  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    Hopefully the final prices are MUCH lower than the currently listed MSRPs...$1090 for the Richland and $1420 for the updated IVB is simply too much IMO. Reply
  • kyuu - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    It's a little confusing, but from what I'm reading I believe the A10-4657M is just an updated Trinity SKU, unfortunately. No Richland. =( Reply
  • kyuu - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    On the other hand, the upgrades to 8GB of RAM and 802.11ac wifi are nice. Reply
  • IVIauricius - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    Got my order in today with Dell for a refurb XPS 13. i5 3317U, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, and the new FHD 1080p display. $750 with their current 25% off coupon. Starting price was $999, and ended at $810 after TX taxes. Reply
  • coolhardware - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    It is impressive how far Vizio has come in such a short time. I always enjoy checking out their laptops when I go to Sam's Club. :-)

    I second IVIauricius's suggestion for Dell ultrabooks with coupons and/or refurbs (you still get nice warranty options). Hard to beat the bang-for-the-buck.

    Also, if you are willing to go with something that is not quite an ultrabook but still retains a very compact form factor and nice touchscreen, checkout* the ASUS X202E/S200E. I picked one up at Staples on special for $399 and have loved it, here are the pros/cons:
    Specs:
    +Intel Core i3 CPU (1.8 GHz Core i3-3217U)
    +HD 4000 Graphics
    +4GB RAM
    +500GB HDD
    +11.6” 1336×768 touchscreen
    +HDMI out/VGA out
    +Ethernet (only 100Mbs though)
    +2 x USB 2.0 ports
    +1 x USB 3.0 ports

    Pros:
    +Price: $399-$499 http://goo.gl/IWctJ (Amazon product link)
    +Very good speakers for the size
    +Fairly easy upgrades for 7mm SSD, wifi, etc. http://goo.gl/jvfyc (dissasembly photos)
    +Touchscreen works very well, touchpad works well once drivers are upgraded

    Cons:
    -RAM is soldered in (but at least it has 4GB)
    -HDD is SLOW, needs the user to upgrade to SSD (see above) to attain really good performance
    -No WiDi out of the box (but again, can be upgraded as shown above)
    -Non-IPS display (but still a nice display IMHO)
    -Battery life is only about 4-5 hours

    Summary: obviously not suited for any type of demanding game, but for everyday tasks it is a very pleasing system (especially after upgraded to a SSD) and its capabilities are a nice fit for Windows 8.

    That may seem like a lot of cons, but about half of them are user fixable and for the price it is hard to beat!

    *I do NOT recommend the Q200E (the 'Best Buy' specific model), while it looks the same, internally it has a 2nd gen CPU (not 3rd gen) with corresponding HD3000 graphics instead of HD4000.
    Reply
  • Bob-o - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    While I think it is a great idea to have a continuously updated "best in category" recommendation, your site reviews so few models within each category I'm not sure how well informed your recommendations will be. True of all sites really. . . gizmo 'A' is extolled as "great", "the best" but then I notice they have never reviewed gizmo 'B'. . . or 'G'. . . or. . . Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    I think what we are trying to do is to pick the most interesting and important products for reviewing. At least I find it a bit irritating and boring to review a bad product because I already know the bottom line is going to be "don't buy this", yet we have to give it the same treatment as all other products (can't just run one test and say that this sucks).

    With components, this isn't even that bad because you just run it through the tests and then it sits in a closet. With laptops you actually have to use the system for several days before you can make any real conclusions, so I definitely understand why Jarred and others are picky with the products they review.

    We also have relatively few editors (of which most are freelance, including me) compared to many other sites, hence we don't even have the capacity to review every product that's released.
    Reply
  • Gandalf_The_Grey - Monday, April 01, 2013 - link

    Can there also be a recommendation for European users?
    Unfortunately we can't get a VIZIO in Europe.
    Reply
  • elrui - Tuesday, April 02, 2013 - link

    I bought the 15" with the i7 and 256gb ssd recently for 850 (on sale on Amazon) and I love it. Screen is better than some laptops that are priced 300-400 dollars higher. The only negative I have is the keyboard, layout is a bit off and the choice of key types is weird (I prefer an island keyboard) Reply
  • ericwaltz - Tuesday, April 09, 2013 - link

    I have a question: Why people care so much about touch screen on ultrabooks? I use my laptop for work (mostly coding, calculating, and writing stuff) and I don't feel I miss touch capability and I cannot imagine a scenario where touch would be useful for me. Moreover, from what I understand, it leads to shorter battery life and to inferior screen quality (due to additional layer). So it seems that there are only negatives (at least, for my usage scenario). Can anyone point me to the case where it is really useful? Reply

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